The Mark of Gideon
Overall Ep :
First Aired :
17 Jan 1969
Season Ep :
When Kirk tries to contact the crew on the empty Enterprise, we get several shots of empty corridors and rooms. Strangely, sickbay seems to be on red alert.
A key plot point of this episode is a deliberate confusion over beam down co-ordinates. Spock performs the transport when Kirk beams down (presumably the transporter chief was on his break or something), and is given the co-ordinates 875-020-079. They are read to him very carefully by Uhura, three digits at a time, and Spock repeats each group of three back to her to be sure he has them right. Then, when Kirk turns out to be missing, Spock asks the Gideon people for the co-ordinates again and is again given 875-020-079. Later in the episode, they decide to test the transporter by beaming somebody up from the Gideon council chamber and are given the co-ordinates 875-020-709. Two of the digits in the last set have been transposed... yet apparently this is not noticed. By Spock. Spock! It is, just barely, conceivable that a crewmember might not notice that these co-ordinates differ. One would think there would be checks and safeguards in place for this kind of thing, given that messing up a number like this could beam somebody down inside a wall or something. Yet mistakes are made even by professionals, and after all the numbers are very similar. And people do sometimes have a tendency to see what they expect to see. But Spock?! The man with a mind like a computer, who routinely cites obscure facts and figures from memory, who can calculate the odds of pretty much any given event in an instant. He was present both times, clearly heard both sets of figures, and he did not notice the discrepancy right away? I find this inconceivable!
Interestingly, Gideon shows absolutely no signs of mass habitation. From Earth orbit the effects of Human habitation of our planet are clearly visible, especially at night when the lights of cities can easily be seen. One might expect that Gideon would be a planet of of vast sprawling cities, perhaps even one of those "planet cities" so beloved of sci-fi, like Asimov's Trantor. One might suggest that the Gideons all live underground, and use the surface for agriculture or something - but that's not really possible, since Odona states that "there is no place... no street, no house, no garden, no beach, no mountain that is not filled with people. Each one of us would kill in order to find a place alone to himself." Clearly the surface is meant to be crammed with people, so there must be dwellings, roads, houses, all that stuff. Yet we see absolutely nothing, even on the remastered version.
Are we really supposed to believe that the deep thrumming sound Kirk and Odona hear is the sound of the heartbeats of all the people outside? Because that's just absurd.
Worst Moment :
There are a thousand different ways they could have solved their problem without going to all the trouble of kidnapping a starship captain and building a replica of his ship. All they want is a sample of Kirk's blood! They could have bashed him over the head the instant he arrived and drawn a whole pint of his blood. They could have kept him busy for days, and snuck in to hypo some blood out of him whilst he sleeps. If they just wanted him to naturally infect somebody they could have arranged for a suitable volunteer to get up close and personal with him - they did arrange exactly that, after all, but why bother with a replica of the Enterprise to do it? She could have just been assigned to him as a local guide or assistant or something. Absolutely nothing about it makes a lick of sense!
Body Count :
Stanley Adams, who co-wrote this episode, also played Cyrano Jones in ""The Trouble With Tribbles". Adams was seriously worried about what he saw as the rapid overpopulation of Earth, and talked to Gene about this whilst filming his episode. He suggested that the subject of a massively overpopulated planet might make a good episode for the show.
The Enterprise visits the planet Gideon, a potential Federation member. Negotiations with the planet have proved extremely difficult as they have refused to allow Federation representatives on their soil; the Enterprise is visiting because the Gideons have finally agreed to allow a single representative on the sole condition that it be Captain Kirk. Beaming down, Kirk finds himself mysteriously still aboard the Enterprise - with the ship apparently empty of her crew. As he searches the empty vessel he finds a young woman, Odana, wandering the corridors. She professes to know nothing of the situation, leaving Kirk even more confused.
Meanwhile, Spock and the Enterprise crew are unaware of any of this - as far as they are concerned the ship is perfectly normal. The Gideons deny all knowledge of the Captain's whereabouts and continue to refuse to allow anybody else to beam down. After long negotiations, Spock discovers that the Gideons gave the Enterprise a set of beam-down co-ordinates which are slightly off, sending Kirk to another location. Spock beams to there without permission and finds Kirk alive and well.
It transpires that the Gideons have been carrying out an elaborate ruse; they built a replica of the Enterprise on their planet in order to trap Kirk so that they could extract Vegan-choriomeningitis from his blood and infect Odona. Kirk contracted this disease in the past and narrowly avoided death. The Gideons plan to use Odona to infect much of their population; their people enjoy long lives, with disease unknown and death rare even in old age as their bodies can regenerate. These conditions have led to a colossal overpopulation problem, with the Gideons literally pressed in against one another on much of the planet. It is their hope to use the disease to cull their vast population.
Kirk beams Odona back to the real Enterprise and she is treated. The ship departs, leaving her behind to implement the plan.
A mixed episode, this one. The idea of a planet suffering from massive overpopulation is an interesting one, and the Gideon's proposed solution is rather macabre but makes a twisted sense given the situation. The practicalities of their approach don't stand up too well though - why the elaborate plot to kidnap Kirk and procure a disease? Surely there must be weapons which could do the job just as well in some mass suicide program. And why strand him on an exact replica of the Enterprise - the stated goal is to "confuse his mind" and "make him susceptible to some extraordinary experiment." But all they need is a blood sample, so why does he need to be confused about anything? They could have strapped him down to a bed somewhere and took a hypo full of blood and been done with it just as easily. This is especially confusing because given the nature of Gideon, coming up with the space to build something like a replica of the Enterprise must have been a truly mindboggling problem.
Speaking of which, it's fun to speculate just how many people would be on Gideon. Every exterior shot we saw had everybody literally standing shoulder to shoulder! If an entire Earth-sized planet was covered to that density we're talking about a thousand trillion people! Of course there might be uninhabited seas, there might be large farmlands needed where people can't go - though that would be hard to enforce in a society where the entire population is said to be willing to literally kill or die for a chance to be alone. And equally, any seas might be covered in floating cities and with Federation technology you can "feed a thousand people where one was fed before", as Kirk once put it. Large numbers of high rise buildings could also multiply the carrying capacity of the planet greatly. Ultimately speculation is all we can do, but Gideon probably has a population at least in the trillions, if not considerably greater than that.
I am going to editorialise for a bit, because in the real world the overpopulation issue is a bit of a sore spot for me. The alleged overpopulation of the Earth has been claimed to be a major problem for the last two centuries, at least. I mention below that actor/writer Stanley Adams was very concerned about overpopulation; his concern may have been inspired by the best-selling book published just a year prior to this episode, "The Population Bomb" by Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich claimed in the book that "The battle to feed all of humanity is over... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to 'stretch' the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production and providing for more equitable distribution of whatever food is available. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control."
Well, the population continued to grow - from 1968 to the end of the 1980s, it went from around 3.7 to 5.3 billion. And yet, the mass widespread famine never happened. This is not to say there was no famine; famine in Africa was worldwide news in the 1980s, and has been periodically ever since. Yet these famines were largely local
affairs, affecting certain countries or certain regions. And they were the result of bad harvests or, in some cases, political issues - war and such in those regions. This is not to minimise the suffering of those involved at all, but these were emphatically not the end-of-civilisation-as-we-all-run-out-of-food Ehrlich was talking about.
Indeed, even today a good portion of the world goes to bed hungry each night. But there are two things to bear in mind about that; one, the overall trend in that percentage is a gradual decline, and has been for decades and decades. And two... the Earth produces, or could easily produce, more than enough food to feed everybody. Hell, in the west we subsidise farmers to keep them in business! We could feed everybody in the world, if we chose to, and could do it easily. We choose
not to do so. Famine is, in the modern age, fundamentally a political problem.
Related arguments are made for overpopulation - that we are running out of fresh water, that we are wiping out all of the species in the biosphere, that the world is getting ever more polluted. I don't intend this to become a lengthy attempt at rebuttal of all those problems, but what they have in common is an issue that is at the heart of the overpopulation claims; people take the idea that there is a fixed supply of a given resource, note that we are consuming it, and project that with more people it will be completely consumed in a certain timeframe. Thus, overpopulation is a terrible danger. In every case, what is missing from the argument is that people generate new resources
. People come up with ways of growing more food, of creating fresh water from sea water, of extracting materials from the Earth in new and better ways. And more people means more minds working on those problems. The history on this point is abundantly clear - in 1800, English writer Thomas Malthus was one of the first to become widely known for doomsday predictions about overpopulation - and today the population of England has increased some sixfold from his time, and one of the greatest problems facing his countrymen is obesity
. And this story can be told again and again; Ehrlich continued making his predictions of disaster long after 1968, always telling us that disaster was looming, merely a decade or two away. He still claims it now, and is still widely celebrated for his claims in many circles, despite decades of being flat wrong.
In this context, this episode has always stuck out to me as a particular oddity. I know Trek never laid claim to be accurate prophecy of the future, but this is one episode that pretty clearly got it badly wrong.
The usual improved exterior shots of the Enterprise and a much improved rendering of Gideon.